BY DOUG IRELAND | Iranian authorities staged a brutal and violent May 10 raid on a birthday party in Esfahan which they suspected was a gay gathering, beating the guests and arresting 87 people, including four women, one of whom had a child with her.
Some 80 of those arrested made bail or were released immediately but face possible prosecution in the future, while the other 17 were imprisoned awaiting trial. A judge told their families that those jailed would be charged with “homosexual conduct” (hamjensgarai in Persian) and the consumption of alcohol.
According to the most recent telephone reports from Esfahan received by Arsham Parsi, the exiled executive director of the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO – formerly the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization), 12 of the 17 jailed were eventually also allowed to post bail and released pending their trial, which is scheduled for a month from now. Five are still incarcerated – including the lad whose birthday was being celebrated, 19-year-old Farhad, and his uncle, who were unable to make the $250,000 bail each set by a judge, Parsi told Gay City News this Wednesday.
“I've been told that Farhad faces prison and perhaps execution,” Parsi said by telephone from Toronto, where he has been living since he was granted asylum by Canada last year as a sexual refugee from persecution in Iran.
Parsi said that, according to accounts he has received from Iran, police brought along on the raid both a film crew and four mullahs to serve as witnesses to what they suspected would be gay sexual activity at the party.
Under the religious Sharia law in force in the Islamic Republic of Iran, four witnesses are required for conviction on a charge of homosexual sex involving penetration, a crime that carries the death penalty. Consumption of alcohol carries a penalty of 100 lashes, and, after a third conviction, the death penalty.
Police and members of the Basiji – the thuggish parapolice attached to the Revolutionary Guards and used to enforce morality – severely beat the Esfahan party guests, both inside the house where the party was held and in the street outside, resulting in broken bones for some of those in attendance, according to guests at the party and other eyewitnesses.
A voice-mail left on the office telephone of the IRQO by one of those arrested said, “The police beat us so hard that one of us threw himself out of the third-floor window and broke his legs. He is now in hospital. When we were arrested, we were forced to sleep on the floor, and the police were walking on us. We don't have any voice here and you are our voice. Please tell the world about our horrible situation in Iran, it is our daily life.”
Parsi told Gay City News that eight of those jailed were transgendered or had been wearing female attire. All of them denied having had anal intercourse with men, but police subsequently had them examined by a medical officer who claimed he had found evidence of anal sexual intercourse on the part of “most of them.”
Parsi said those examined all told the arraignment judge that was because they had been raped, but the evidence of the medical officer can nonetheless be used to convict them of a sexual crime that carries capital punishment.
Parsi added that he had received a telephone call from one of the transgendered women who was arrested and “she told me the awful story about that night and her jail experience. She told me that the police kept bags over their heads while they were in jail, and that they were hardly allowed to go to the toilet. They were permitted to use a toilet only twice in the four days they were in jail.”
Esfahan is Iran's third largest city, with a population of 1,600,000, and is also home to one of Iran's most important nuclear facilities, and thus is under tight police control and surveillance.
The violent raid and jailings were vigorously denounced by both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
AI's statement said in part, “Amnesty International opposes the criminalization of consensual adult sexual relations conducted in private and urges the Iranian authorities to urgently review law and practice to ensure that no one can be prosecuted for such reasons… AI is concerned that [some of] the men may be held because of what they were wearing at the time of their arrest… If this is the case, then they are prisoners of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression.”
Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch, noted in a written statement that the Esfahan raid came as the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was conducting a new campaign against “immoral behavior,” begun in April, that includes a stringent crackdown on women who violate rigorous Islamic dress codes.
According to Iran's semi-official Mehr News Agency, police on April 25 said that 150,000 people had been detained so far in this campaign. On May 13, police told the same news agency that 17,000 people had been stopped and interrogated at Iranian airports, of whom 850 women had been detained and released only after signing what were termed “commitment letters,” while another 130 faced prosecution.
“In Iran, the walls of homes are transparent and the halls of justice opaque,” HRW's Stork said, adding, “This 'morality' campaign shows how fragile respect for privacy and personal dignity is in Iran today.”
Further evidence of the brutality of Iran's heavy-handed theocracy toward homosexuals came with the release by the IRQO of horrific photos showing the wounds of a gay couple who had been subjected to 80 lashes in April “just for being gay,” as Parsi put it. The couple- Farhad, 26, and Farnam, 23 – escaped from Iran to Turkey last Saturday. They had been arrested when police broke into their home in Tehran.
According to the text of an Iranian Ministry of Justice document furnished to Gay City News by the IRQO, Farhad and Farnam were charged both with “organizing immoral parties” and with the crime of “tafkhiz,” which can be translated as interfemural sex – that is, humping or being humped between the thighs.
Parsi, who spoke to the exiled gay couple by telephone, said, “The police told them, 'The 80 lashes are just for your immoral parties. For your tafkhiz you will get a lot more.'” Fearful of imprisonment and more torture on the charge, the couple fled Iran just days before their trial.
IRQO's Parsi told Gay City News that Farhad and Farnam were among five new refugees from persecution in Iran – two of the others gay, one of them transgendered – who arrived in Turkey on the same train last Saturday.
“One of the guys arrived without a penny,” Parsi said. “He completely needs support, and for the moment he is living in one of our safe houses in Turkey, where we have eight people already living in a tiny two-bedroom house.”
Parsi said that his organization can only afford two such safe houses in Turkey, and that “both are very, very small and dirty, with totally inadequate toilet facilities and no way to bathe properly.” He added, “We now have over 30 gay, lesbian, and transgendered Iranian refugees in Turkey who totally depend on IRQO's support. They cannot get jobs in Turkey, where there is a lot of homophobia and transphobia – and our small budget simply cannot adequately meet their needs. We appeal to all our brothers and sisters in the West not to forget the suffering of LGBT Iranians, or that we urgently need your donations.”
Contributions to the Iranian Queer Organization – an all-volunteer group that is the largest Iranian LGBT association, with more than 40,000 people on its e-mail list – may be made on credit cards via a secure PayPal account through the organization's Web site at http://www.pglo.net/.
Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at http://direland.typepad.com/direland/